Remember how once whacky old Kevin Martin the Cable Playa Hatah was gone the FCC was gonna forget all about cable? Because, after all, cable was all vibrant and competitive and stuff and who needs dumb old cable when everyone has Broadband?
Item one in communications land for the new year is the first round of retransmission fights. The biggies at the moment are Sinclair/Mediacom, where Mediacom has tried to get the FCC to weigh in on its side, TWC v. Fox, TWC v. Food Network/Scripps Howard (which no longer includes Scripps broadcasting properties), and Cablevision v. Food Network. Although TWC and Mediacom agreed to extensions with the various programmers to continue to try to sort things out, and TWC ultimately reached an agreement with Fox, Cablevision and Food Network ended up in stalemate.
Result, Cablevision has dropped Food Network and HGTV. In the war for the hearts and minds of customers, the Food Network folks have launched web based outreach with clips and fact sheets. Cablevision’s response is a little harder to find, but digging through their customer service led me to this page which basically says “Scripps wanted to much money for their programming, we hope you enjoy the other cooking shows we have.” Unfortunately for Scripps, the broadcast TV fights have significantly overshadowed them.
Which brings us to the first point of importance for all those folks in policyland who keep insisting that “broadcasting is dead.” You will notice that from the perspective of people reporting news to folks outside policyland, keeping broadcast programming was much bigger news than people actually losing popular cable-only programming. Second point – this is Food Network’s first round of negotiations as a stand alone cable company without also negotiating for broadcast properties. This gives them significantly less leverage.
But all these pale beside the third point — cable (and I mean cable, not “MVPD”) regulatory issues remain important and the market power and consumer protection issue don’t disappear because we now have multiple delivery platforms. Millions of people spend billions of dollars on these services and care a heck of a lot about them. Like it or not, and despite all the coventional wisdom about youtube, twitter, teh inerwebz, blah blah, this medium and these programmers dominate — indeed, arguably define — our common national culture. That means cable policy will continue to be a vital part of the FCC’s focus despite a desire to do sexier things like wireless and broadband.
Which means the folks on the 8th Floor need to wake up, grudgingly admit that whacky old Kevin Martin wasn’t so whacky after all, and reopen the proceedings on wholesale cable programming unbundling, retrans, leased access, Section 616 reform, and the other issues around boring cable programming the FCC hoped it could forget about because broadband and wireless would solve evrything and who watched TV anymore anyway.
Stay tuned . . . .